How To Achieve Music Industry Success Despite Physical Limitations.
Tono Miakoda is a successful music entrepreneur who owns W Music, a company that specializes in producer and songwriter management.
W Music has worked with some of the world’s most successful record producers, recording engineers, and songwriters, people whose projects have gone further than “Gold” (500,000) and “Platinum” (1,000,000) sales levels–the industry’s highest sales awards for artists and record labels.
Artists who have earned these awards include Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Lady GaGa, Destiny’s Child, Jessica Simpson, Bonnie Raitt, Kelly Rowland, Sony Music, Universal, BMG, Columbia Records, Interscope, J Records, and many others.
His clients have included Rob Fusari, Bill Lee, Tiaa Miakoda, and Calvin Gaines, all of whom are household names in the music industry.
We spoke with Tono not only about his music career but also about his comeback from a broken back, which he still deals with on a daily basis. He doesn’t, however, let his injury stop him from his love of sailing. This story definitely illustrates the old saying, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Tono found a way to keep enjoying what he loves, even though it was an incredible challenge for him initially. But even more than that, he started a foundation to help others with similar challenges…
So Tono, let’s discuss your rise in the music industry before moving on to the health-related challenges you’ve overcome. How did you get your start in music?
I grew up in a large family (10 boys and four girls). My mother was a semi-famous jazz singer. She was friends with and performed with some of the great jazz vocalists of her time, including the legendary Nat King Cole, Sarah Vauughan, Little Jimmy Scott, Billy Eckstine, and Arthur Prysock.
At the early age of eight, my mother sat me down and gave me a choice. “You could be a singer or a musician; what’s it going to be?” she said. I said “singer,” because I didn’t want to have to practice long hours as a musician. From about eight years old until I was 13, my brothers and I began touring nightclubs up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
By the time I was 14, my family had formed a group consisting of three brothers and three sisters. I played bass guitar, my older brother Tet played guitar, and my little brother Damien played drums, while my sisters did vocals. We opened up for some of the top R&B, funk and soul groups during the 80’s.
How did you get into music management?
When I was 17 years old, I enrolled in Upsala College to study business management and marketing. It was during this time that I realized that my true passion was the art of business. After college, I formed W Music Group with two partners.
What challenges did you face in building up the business? And how are you able to overcome them?
We first started out as an artist management firm. But I realized early that it was almost impossible to sign established artists and even harder to break a new artist. Managing an artist is like marrying a person. It takes an enormous amount of time from your life, and the return that you get is only 20%, which is not really cost-effective for all the time that you invest. You can get more money managing a producer than an artist, and it takes much less time.
At the time, there was a need that wasn’t being filled, as many talented songwriters and producers didn’t have representation. So we reinvented W Music to specialize in producer and songwriter management.
What advice would you give to someone who is planning on entering the music industry in a similar capacity to what you do?
Because the industry has changed so much over the past 10 years, I don’t think we will ever see the big dollars that we once were able to command for producer advances. As such, I would recommend going back to the basic fundamentals of artist management.
Fundamentals like finding an artist that you believe in and developing that artist to be a viable commodity and getting the artist signed by one of the majors. “Why do people rob banks?” Because that’s where the money is.” The majors have the money. If you want to be successful today, you need them behind you.
If I were starting out today, I would do what is standard in the industry now. I would become a partner with an artist where we would form a company together. I would front the expenses, work with them on a daily basis and in return, get 50 percent of everything.
That seems fair to me, looking at both sides and as an artist myself. I know that managing an artist is a huge time commitment. Ok, so changing focus now to your health, can you please tell us the story of how you recovered from a broken neck and a broken back in 1994? What happened?
I had two passions, riding my Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycle and sailing my sailboat. In 1994, I was hit by a drunk driver while riding my bike. I fractured three vertebrae in my neck, four in my lower back and herniated seven discs in my neck.
I had three major surgeries over the next 15 years and countless rehab. As of today, I’m able to walk and stand, but not for long periods at a time. I’m still in a lot of pain, but I have learned to live with it, as I have met several other people over the years that were also hit on their bikes that are no longer able to walk or stand.
So I made a choice to wake up each morning and be grateful for being able-bodied and to take the bad with the good. We all have a choice: we can wake up and bitch about what’s wrong with our lives or we can wake up and be positive.
How did you react to the diagnosis that you had broken your back? I imagine hearing that diagnosis must’ve been terrifying.
When I was lying there, my head was strapped in so I couldn’t move it. When the doctor told me that there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to walk again, I wasn’t really afraid because I was in so much pain that I knew my spinal cord was still intact. Even when I woke up after the surgery, I knew I would be okay because again. I could feel the pain in my neck and back, and that was a good sign that I was going to be okay.
How were you able to recover?
It took years to get to where I am today. A lot of trial and error with medications, pain killers, and rehab allowed me to recover. The key to my recovery was first to be able accept that I was never going to be the person I was before the accident. I had to accept that once you’ve been cut you are no longer whole.
Then I had to decide to get off all of the narcotic meds that just mask the pain and kept my mind in a state of fog. Next, I had to learn and understand the triggers that increase the pain and understand my limitations so that I could function with as little medication as possible.
I really enjoyed sailing; just being out of the water and the wind does something incredible to you. But sailing is, in fact, a physical sport. You need to be able to move from side to side of the boat and be able adjust the rigging. After my surgeries, I was unable to handle a sailboat for 12 years.
In 2006, my wife went online and found a particular sailboat that was designed for people with disabilities. These boats allow a person with even severe disabilities to use a servo device to sail solo. But it was only available in Australia. She contacted the manufacturer and placed on order for one.
However, after talking about the boats with a close friend that was one of the top executives for Prudential, he was able to have Pru help us purchase additional boats.
So the summer of 2006, My wife, good Paul Coward, and I started a sailing program called “Safe Sailing Foundation” www.safesailingfoundation.com for children and adults with disabilities.
So what started out as an adaptive sailing program actually turned out to be something much bigger as we opened the program to include kids at risk, seniors, wounded veterans and the general public.
My partner and co-founder of the program introduced us to Roy Wilkins, the sailing coach for Ocean County College. We met with the president of the college, Jon H. Larson, and he loved the idea of what we were doing.
The college held a few fundraisers and was able to secure funding to build a new facility on the Toms River that will host both the college sailing team and the sailing program.
The new program will launch next year–2017–and Paul Coward will act as the program director. It should run five days a week from mid-June until mid-September.
OCC Safe Sailing Program “Sailing is for Everyone” www.cean.edu
And now what are they doing with the boats?
They took over boats and will be adding additional boats to accommodate the new program.
And how are you feeling now; are you able to sail?
Yes, I’m able to sail with these adaptive boats.
That must be an incredible relief. You mentioned that you are in pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which I have had myself, but how are you dealing with this on a daily basis? When you are literally falling down seven times and rising up eight every day, how do you keep your spirits up and get through the day?
You have to keep busy, and when you’re not, you have to remind yourself that things could be worse.
I ask myself several times a day, would if it be better to be paralyzed and not feel anything, or deal with the pain I feel every day. And then I remind myself that many people don’t have that choice. So I stop feeling sorry for myself and count my blessings.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not easy; some days are harder than others. But at the end of the day, I have to decide if I’m going to let the pain rule me or if I’m in control.
What else have you found that helps you?
- Count your blessings.
- Help other people less fortunate than you.
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Eat healthy.
- Try to smile.
- Try to see the good in every situation.
Any last words?
I think what you’re doing is great! I hope it inspires people to keep pushing forward even when they can’t see over the hill.
Thank you. And how can people reach you?
What we like about Tono’s story is that he has continually learned from his challenges and adapted to his setbacks to find other ways of becoming successful, both in business and with his health issues. He couldn’t enjoy his love of sailing for 12 years due to physical limitations. Can you imagine how happy Tono must have been that first day that he was able to sail again?
Regardless of your limitations, there is always a way to change your circumstances. Even if you have monetary limitations, there is always a way. Remember, Tono had help from friends to achieve his dream of sailing again. Letting people know where you are at can sometimes help you get the results you are looking for if you can’t achieve them yourself.
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